Teaching Kids Good Manners: 5 Tips for Parents

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Preschoolers, Big Kids, Tweens


Teaching kids proper manners starts at home. Credit: Philip Lim, AFP/Getty Images

We all want our kids to be polite people who treat others well, but young children are a fairly self-focused bunch, more interested in what they want than in saying thanks. How do we teach young kids the tangible skills and intangible instincts that make up good manners in our culture?

Child development experts Nurit Sheinberg and Lorraine Breffni, from the Early Childhood Studies Institute at Nova Southeastern University, say it begins with "realistic expectations and patience." Things such as good behavior in restaurants will come with practice and time, as kids gain self-control.

Preschoolers won't remember to say "please" or "thank you" after just a few reminders, Breffni says.

"From an operational standpoint, they're just not ready," she says.

But remind them enough, and eventually the lessons will stick. It helps to reward kids with positive words when they do the right thing. If a child shares a toy with a friend, point out how happy the friend looks.

"Make those connections between actions and reactions," Sheinberg says.

If a child is in daycare or preschool, find out how manners are approached there. Do teachers sit and talk with children at mealtime?

"Children should have multiple opportunities and contexts in which to see these skills demonstrated," Breffni says. Interaction with adults outside the family helps kids see and practice polite social behavior.

In addition, young kids watch and internalize, copying a parent's moves. Ramp up the politeness in your own behavior, and, over time, your kids will do the same.

Top five examples parents should set:

Share. Let another driver merge into your lane, hold the door for a stranger.

2. Don't interrupt. In the hustle of daily life, we may cut our kids off mid-sentence. Try not to sacrifice politeness for efficiency.

3. Pick up after yourself. Overbooked as parents are, making the bed is a luxury we don't always have time for. But children will learn from your examples.

4. Offer random acts of kindness. Watch a neighbor's kids or bake an unexpected treat for your coworkers. Your kids will notice.

5. Don't allow toys at the dinner table. This may be the toughest of all. Leave the BlackBerry and iPhone elsewhere, putting your focus on the food and the mealtime conversation.

Want more resources? Check out TV shows such as "Arthur" and "Cyberchase," which offer frequent lessons on patience, sharing and teamwork. Both Emily Post and Miss Manners have weighed in with books on good manners for kids, and a slew of children's storybooks explore politeness and courtesy.


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.